A big part of the work of a historical specialist, archivist, historian, or curator is often behind the scenes. Research forms an important part of our jobs, as we investigate objects, answer inquiries, and ask questions about the past.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to dive into some important research on an artifact you might have heard a bit about.
On August 22 I was made aware that a cowboy hat for sale on eBay was purported to be Clem Gardner’s. Not only was this hat generating a lot of interest from other potential buyers and the local media, but I thought I better do some digging and see if it could actually be Clem’s! If it was, it would certainly be something we would want for our collection, with Clem’s great ties to the Calgary Stampede.
Clem was an important figure in early Calgary Stampede history, competing in the 1912 Stampede in several events, including bronc riding, and was named Canadian All-Around Cowboy. He competed in the first chuckwagon races in 1923, and continued competing at Stampede until 1944. After retiring from competition, he provided stock to Stampede from his ranch, and housed the Stampede’s own bulls and horses. In 1954 he was named the 1912 competitor who had contributed most to the growth and development of the Calgary Stampede. Quite a legacy!
The listing showed a brown or tan coloured hat in what we now call the Gus style, from Hamley & Co, and stated that it was from c.1912-1915 and had belonged to Clem Gardner. Along with it was a note stating that the hat had been ‘given to my father Ed Pargee from the widow of Clem Gardner.
I began with researching additional background information on Clem, including looking at archival photos from both our own archives and Glenbow Museum archives. While in many photographs it seems that Gardner is wearing a different style of hat, there are a couple in which it looks like he may be wearing this style. Photos of Guy Weadick also show this type of hat, demonstrating that other local cowboys were wearing this fashion. This isn’t unusual- over the course of his career, it was only natural he might change the style of his hat every once in a while! This is also how I knew he did not wear, for example, a black hat. That fact was confirmed to me in a phone call with someone who knew Gardner. He couldn’t comment on whether this hat was Clem’s, but he did say he always wore a tan coloured hat.
In this Calgary Stampede archives photo of a parade for Clem Gardner, you can see Guy Weadick in a hat similar to the one available.
I also began to research Hamley & Co, a saddle maker from Pendleton, Oregon, where the famous Pendleton Round-Up is held. They are well known for their saddles and accessories, and have been around since 1883, and in Pendleton since 1905. I was able to find some of their old catalogues online and look for not only the trademark, but the style of hat. There are a few specific hats it could be based on the catalogue sketches- including one called The Calgary! Looking through the catalogues allowed me to determine that the hat could not be as early as 1915, as the trademark was slightly different, but the style denoted a 1920s hat. This was later confirmed to me by the owners of the company that the hat would date from 1920-1930.
Pages from the Hamley & Co. catalogue, showing how the trademark changed slightly from 1915 to the 1920s
One of my main objectives was to establish the chain of provenance – who owned the hat, and how did it get from Clem to the current seller? Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with the current seller, who still had the information from the auction house he bought the hat from more than a decade ago, including auction and lot number! I was able to confirm these details on their website. I also looked for information about Ed Pargee, who was referenced in the note included with the hat, which is how Clem’s name came up in association with the hat at all.
Ed Pargee served with the Calgary Highlanders in World War II, was one of the founders of the Alberta Pioneer Auto Club, and established the Globe Steering Clinic, a garage in the Beltline of Calgary which was open for 81 years before shutting down in 2008. The building eventually became the Heritage Posters and Music store, though has since been demolished.
Ed passed away in 1987, but the hat was passed along to his son. After some extensive digging, I was able to make contact with him in Victoria, BC, and he confirmed that his father had received the hat from Clem’s widow, who had lived across the street from them growing up. At one point, he’d decided to put it to auction. This confirmation of details ensured that the chain of provenance was established, and I knew exactly how it got from Clem to the present day.
So to summarize, after 6 days of research, numerous phone calls and emails, lots of time looking through archival photos and old Hamley Cowboy Catalogues, and a very tight deadline for all of it, I decided to acquire the hat for the Stampede Archives.
While I don’t think I can ever be 100% sure that this was the hat Clem wore, or at least owned, I’m about as sure as I can be. It is certainly a great example of a Hamley & Co hat from the 1920s, which was worn at some point in Calgary, and is in fantastic condition.
Now that the hat has arrived, I’ll be able to take a closer look at it, do some measurements, and hopefully be able to compare it to the Hamley catalogues to figure out exactly which style it is. I’ll also make decisions about how best store and preserve it.
The Calgary, as seen in the Hamley Cowboy Catalogue, 1927. The hat looks very similar to this, but could also be one of several other styles.
In future the hat will be available for research purposes and display in temporary exhibitions, and may one day be on display in SAM centre, a purpose built western heritage interpretive centre and archives that will be a thriving part of Youth Campus. Once completed Youth Campus will include the already completed TransAlta Performing Arts Studios, as well as the BMO Amphitheater, Walton Hall and Enbridge Plaza. The Calgary Arts Academy and the Calgary Opera will also make their new home on Youth Campus.